Starwood Hotels & Resorts is said to be opening one hotel every 10th day and signing a new property every 7th day, worldwide. While that may be the overall picture of its robust plans, India is very much at the forefront in its development chart. Sharing details about it with Express Hospitality, Rajan Bahadur, regional director - Sales & Marketing, South Asia for the hospitality major, revealed, "India is a robust market for us in the South Asian region. In the next five years, we expect to have 100 properties operational in India which is an achievable target. In fact, as I speak, we have 30 operational properties and nine are in the pipeline to open in 2011 which will be a mix of brands from Sheraton, aloft, Four Points, Le Meridien, etc. Nine or 10 more will come up by end of 2012. That shows our emphasis and confidence on this market."
While some brands will come with the existing partners, a few will be in the form of partnership with other developers. There was a time when Starwood's presence was limited to franchise model in India. Now, there is strong effort towards management opportunities. Also, the company will have presence in six different brands out of nine in Starwood's portfolio. The group nonetheless is looking forward to avenues to bring other remaining brands to India. "Our brand presence in India is also going in a positive way and would look forward to bring remaining brands according to opportunities we get," he added.
Starwood is also finding it lucrative to go to tier II and lesser known places from hospitality point of view. Bahadur explained, "The proposition of our presence is creating destinations and therefore, India will see our presence in smaller cities like Coimbatore for example, where Le Meridien brand will fuel its social characteristics to a higher level." According to him, for any new property, the group is using due diligence based on its USP i.e. offering different brands for different segments with preferred guest programmes, which translates into venturing/exploring new locations in India. Dhanajay S Saliankar, regional director - Global Sales for India, Bangladesh & Maldives for the group added, "India is at a standpoint where we can approach other neighbouring countries to create brand reach. New hotels are opening up in India and this country ranks at the top three when it comes to Starwood developments." The company's selection criterion for any new venture would be based on the properties (for the brand fit), locations and partners involved for its various developments. "We are critical of our partners and conscious of the prospect of growth, competition and infrastructure of the location that enable us to take steps towards investments in India. We are investing a lot in manpower," Bahadur added. Asked if Starwood would look at owning property and directly investing in India, he summed, "We are bullish about India and the option of ownership is not closed."
Starwood also announced the signing of the first W in India - W Mumbai - which is scheduled to open in 2015. Under a management contract with Jaguar Buildcon, the W Mumbai will be part of the landmark Namaste Tower, a 55-storey, mixed-use building. Designed by WS Atkins, the Namaste Tower is named for its iconic design resembling two hands clasped together.
"Already our fourth largest market, India is second only to China in terms of our future global growth," said Frits van Paasschen, president and chief executive officer of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. "Given India's growing wealth, infrastructure demands and accelerating stature as a global business hub, our opportunity here is vast. India today is still an 'under-hoteled' market and the demand for high-caliber lodging is expected to far exceed current supply for the next three to four years."
"Indian consumers continue to enjoy double digit growth in per capita income and have a higher propensity to spend on travel and recreation," said Vasant Prabhu, vice chairman and chief financial officer for Starwood. "As domestic travel increases and Indian travellers continue to demand more sophistication in terms of both quality and experience, we have significant opportunity to grow our brands across the spectrum - whether that's debuting our ultra luxury St. Regis brand or expanding our mid market footprint in underserved markets with aloft and Four Points by Sheraton."
"India's tech-savvy, younger generation is creating tremendous demand for our popular and affordable aloft and Four Points by Sheraton brands, which are expanding rapidly in India's many emerging urban centres," said Dilip Puri, managing director India and regional vice president of south Asia.